Facing rejection

The rite of passage (image source: billanddavescocktailhour.com)

The rite of passage (image source: billanddavescocktailhour.com)

So it finally happened. I received my first rejection email from a literary agent on Friday. It was a very polite, well written, even encouraging rejection letter, but it was a ‘no’ all the same. I know that there are many of you out there thinking about submitting your beloved manuscript to an agent and I wish you all the very best. If, however, things do not go to plan, I would like prepare you for the emotional roller coaster you are about to undertake. Here is my guide to the five stages of grief writer rejection*:

The tingle of excitement as you read the email heading soon turns to disappointment as you get to the key phrase “your book is not for us/we are not interested in representing you/my eyes, my eyes!” It is at this point you enter the first stage of writer rejection:

1. Denial and Isolation
There must be some mistake. You had just spent the best part of a year/years putting your life’s blood into the manuscript. You may have only sent through the first three chapters but what great chapters they were! Your Mother loved it when she read it through, said it was the best book she’d ever read. Perhaps there had been a clerical error and some lowly intern had sent out a rejection mail by mistake.

By this point, disappointment’s insidious rise starts to subvert your brain’s initial denial into a completely different emotion.

2. Anger
How dare they! Exactly who do they think they are, sitting on their high horses acting as gatekeepers to the promised land. Then again their website is a bit of a giveaway, filled with the latest autobiographies of z-list celebrities keen to make a quick buck in the lead up to christmas. Plus they represent the Author X, who’s writing is terrible despite the bucket loads of books they’ve sold. You know that you’re so much better than the cliche-riddled tripe that they produce every six months. It’s clear that the agency clearly put commercial success above artistic merit. It’s as if they believe selling books is some form of business!

You chanter away for a while, dreaming of Molotov cocktails and agency windows, but as your anger subsides, you are left with feelings of helplessness and vulnerability and feel the need to somehow regain control.

3. Bargaining
Perhaps you could beef up the opening paragraph. Instead of your hero smiling at his beau over a cup of coffee, he could be handing her a child he’d just rescued from a burning building whilst under-fire by guerrilla rebels, putting his body in the line of fire to protect the child and taking a bullet while winning her heart? Then again, maybe it was the chicken analogy. You’d always thought it a bit clunky. Perhaps if you used a skunk instead it would be more eye-catching. Or you could change…

With each thought, like raindrops striking a dog-turd, your confidence in the integrity of your book erodes until you believe that the whole thing is just one big shitty mess. This leads to the fourth stage:

4. Depression

You were an idiot to have sent it in. The book is clearly awful. Who were you kidding? You’re the writer equivalent of those poor, deluded saps dreaming of stardom while warbling tunelessly during X-Factor auditions. The only way you’re likely to get published is as an example of how not to write for creative writing students, or as an email circular agents send to each other** with the title “You’ll never believe what arrived this morning.” Perhaps it would be better to pack away the notebook, the highlighter pens and the mind maps and go back to the day job.

For some, this period of despondency takes months to recover from, for others just minutes, but eventually you come to the final phase.

5. Acceptance

It was just not meant to be. For whatever reason, this agent and your book were not a match. It was nothing personal and it doesn’t mean the other 20 submissions you sent would end up the same way. You’ve had enough good feedback from others to believe there is some merit, and even you thought it was OK and you are your own worst critic. Relax. Look at the number of famous authors who initially faced multiple rejections. And it wasn’t as if this agent was the one you really wanted to work with, was it.

Plus, even if you get rejected by every single one of them, there is always self-publishing, which pays a much higher percentage per book…

Other good blogs on handling rejection:

25 Things Writers should know about rejection – Chuck Wendig

12 Famous writers on literary rejection

Literary rejections on display

*with apologies to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

** I have made this up, I’m sure agents are far too professional to behave this way. Well, most of them.

29 thoughts on “Facing rejection

  1. Well, leave it to you Dylan to make lemonade out of lemons. I love the humorous outlook you present here. Even J.K. Rowling was rejected by a few agents when she submitted her latest novel manuscript under the pen name Robert Galbraith. I’ve met bloggers whose rejections tally more than 200, but they say with each revision/submission round, the rejections improve, too. That is, moving from standard form letters to more personalized rejection 😀 that offer tips on what can be done to improve the manuscript.

    • Thanks Gwen. I’m in the process removing all sharp objects and padding any hard surfaces in the house in preparation for when the first blow-by-blow rejection letter arrives. That way, I might survive intact (my wife will be taking the children away for the weekend, just to be safe).

  2. Feel for you …. but excellent take on the matter …. love the line: ‘The only way you’re likely to get published is as an example of how not to write for creative writing students’ …. one of many gems ….. maybe there’s a new writing arena opening up for you right now ^^

  3. Sorry to read about this Dylan, but love the way you wrote about it all with your usual dry wit! I hope that after having done so you feel a bit better and have by now disposed of the Molatov cocktails??

    I felt this way when I was rejected by a magazine for an article so it doesn’t bode well for a book rejection does it?

    I wish you the very best with your other submissions … 🙂

    • Thanks Sherri. I think that because so many people warned me of the likelihood of rejection (only 0.001% or 1 in 1000 of submissions lead to a deal), I was only a little disappointed. They are obviously wrong, of course, but I forgive them their error 🙂

  4. Given I’m currently waiting to hear back from an agent I queried, I feel your pain. Sorry to hear about the rejection, but I love the blog post you got out of it.

    I’ve been through this before with my first book, so I suspect my upcoming rejections will be easier to handle. I have no expectations, but I figured I’d give it a try, anyway. Best of luck to you with your future submissions. What’s not right for one agent may be exactly right for another.

  5. I feel your pain, Dylan, and our paths continue in parallel. I think you have a healthy attitude to this writerly ‘right of passage’. Nevertheless, I hope you won’t have to endure too many more of these. The good news is, the agents who haven’t yet replied are still considering your submission – so doors are still open, to say nothing of all the other doors you haven’t yet hammered upon.

    • It’s good to have somebody to metaphorically hold hands with through the process, Jools. I like to think that the agents who haven’t replied are running around their office with my first three chapters shouting “Eureka!” It helps keep me sane 😉

  6. Ah Dylan, I’m so sorry – life’s a bitch sometimes but your post is so funny and well written – whadda they know anyways?! I’d go with the hurling something dangerous through their windows – it’d make you feel better and then you can move on and wait with baited breath and crossed fingers for communications from the other submissions. Good luck 😉

  7. Great post, Dylan. I’ve been there multiple times myself and it can be tough. It seems like you have thick skin though, and can use it to make a funny article. Keep it up and good luck with your other submissions.

  8. Thank you for sharing. I think new writers need to hear this early on, and your narrative of this experience was enjoyable. Keep it up. From the quality of your blog, I can tell you are a talented writer. I look forward to purchasing and reading one of your books some day:)

  9. I often think to myself that it takes a hundred no’s to reach a yes. Hopefully, it will take less no’s – but the really important thing is to keep trying. Maybe I’ll look back at this post when I get my first rejection.

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